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Social Clustering

October 30, 2006

Birds of a feather flock together. It is as natural as gravity, and apparently just as inevitable. People tend to gather in groups with similar beliefs and opinions on a wide range of subjects. It happens on the small scale (sharing a table in a cafeteria) and the large scale (red states and blue states). It happens in our choices of television and radio news. It happens online, as we visit sites and read blogs that align with our own thinking. And it happens in churches, as we seek a congregation that “meets our needs” or where we “feel comfortable”.

Sometimes it happens by conscious choice. In other cases, shared experiences and common needs can influence each person toward the same views.

As a result, each group’s point of view is regularly reinforced and seldom challenged with any depth. This has the effect of caclifying each group’s view and polarizing the issues. Thus it is a significant hurdle to unity.

Sociologists call this phenomenon homophily. An interesting article on this topic appeared in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago. Quoting from the article:

Homophily may help explain some of the bitter partisanship of our times — when your friends are drawn exclusively from one half of the electorate, it is not surprising that you will find the views of the other half inexplicable.

We participate in settings where we don’t have to explain ourselves because everyone else agrees with us. What this means is, ‘I have no reason to challenge or question my own beliefs.’

We tend to believe that our view is the reasonable one, and that our opponents are just not being reasonable. Perhaps that is not always an accurate assessment.

In the history of the Restoration Movement churches, there are many places where this phenomenon can be observed. Its effect has always been to divide and to preserve division. By becoming aware of the tendency, perhaps we can avoid perpetuating the divisive effect. Maybe we can even undo some of the damage.

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4 comments

  1. Alan- you are absoluty right as long as you only listen to others with the same view as yourself, you never learn anything new and you have no reason to change- thanks for your comments on LEM’S Blog. as long as people talk they become wiser even if not changed.


  2. Want to sit next to me at lunch? Hmmm changing our routine is a good way to unite. I’ve always enjoyed a lively discussion but every day becomes wearisome. I wonder how we can work ourselves into a more united people and not dread it.


  3. Are you implying that its difficult for doves to nest with buzzards! :)If from birth we hear the same old daily song & dance routine, we usually buy into the process without much dissent, it’s only when we step outside our groups particular/peculiar religious system that we encounter options that give us a different perspective.Some churches present a tough approach to anyone disagreeing with their tenets; they feel they have somehow cultivated a perfect hermeneutic, and those arriving at a different conclusion just don’t fit the criterion needed to be acceptable brothers and sisters.


  4. Thanks for the link to the article. I will check it out.Shalom,Bobby Valentine



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